Silver Tambur

Silver Tambur is the cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Estonian World. He has previously studied journalism at the University of Tartu, and politics and society at the Birkbeck College, University of London. Silver has been the editor at the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s news service in English, as well as contributing for the Business Sense magazine in the UK, Deutsche Welle and Radio New Zealand. You can also follow him on Twitter and like his page on Facebook. You can write to Silver at silver@estonianworld.com.

Villu Veski and the Estonian TV girls’ choir to perform with Ola Onabule in London (video)

As part of the London Southbank Centre choral festival, a leading Estonian saxophonist Villu Veski, the Estonian TV girls’ choir and the British-Nigerian soul and jazz singer-songwriter, Ola Onabule, will perform together for the first time in the UK.

On Saturday, 5 April, the Estonian TV girls’ choir is featured on the Saturday Afternoon Taster Workshop at London’s Royal Festival Hall, in advance of their performance with Ola Onabule and Villu Veski the following day at the festival. Exploring both traditional Estonian choral music and more contemporary arrangements, the session is open to all confident singers.

On Sunday, 6 April, Onabule, Veski and the Estonian TV girls’ choir perform together for the first time in the UK, fusing Estonian folk music with jazz and soul in a very special collaboration. The concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall features original works by both Onabule and Veski, accompanied by the choir, alongside a selection of traditional Estonian choral music.

Onabule, Veski and the ETV girls choir first collaborated in 2012 in Estonia and quickly developed a programme that was to become a celebrated TV concert at the reputable Charles XI (Kaarli) church in Tallinn in 2012.

The Estonian TV girls’ choir grew out of the children’s TV music studio that was founded in 1990. Today the choir is comprised of about 25 to 30 of the finest young talent in Estonian choral music. The girls of the choir are aged between 15 and 25 and their eclectic repertoire includes spiritual and secular music of different ages, folk music (with choreography) and a modern programme of pop and jazz. The choir has collaborated with many renowned Estonian composers, such as Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis, Urmas Sisask, Tõnis Mägi, and has travelled extensively, performing in many parts of Europe and much further afield to Israel, Russia, China, the US and Argentina. In 2012 they performed to a wide acclaim at the Camden Roundhouse in London, where they shared the bill with Grammy winner Imogen Heap.

Villu Veski is a leading Estonian saxophonist, renowned for his old swing style, etno-jazz and funky-groove. He is also a leader of many ensembles, a teacher and a composer.

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London-born soul and jazz singer-songwriter Ola Onabule has had a career that spans almost two decades, performing internationally at some of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals and concert halls. He has featured as a guest with various Grammy-awarded big bands and orchestras, including the WDR Big Band, the SWR Big Band, the HR Big Band and the Babelsberg Film Orchestra.

EstonianWorld has collaborated with London Southbank Centre to offer our readers concert discount – simply quote promo code “ESTONIA” to receive 10% off the ticket price.

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Video: Ola Onabule, Villu Veski and The ETV Girls Choir performing “Wonderful Feeling” in Tallinn in Dec 2012.

Cover photo: The ETV girls choir performing with Ola Onabule in Tallinn in 2012.

TransferWise wins the FT Boldness in Business award in London

The Estonian-founded, London-based peer-to-peer currency transfer firm TransferWise has won the Financial Times ArcelorMittal Boldness in Business award in “Smaller Company” category.

The annual Boldness in Business Awards are conducted by the Financial Times, one of the leading business newspapers in the world, in collaboration with ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel making company.

Winners are selected by a panel of experts who base their decision on a shortlist drawn up by the FT’s global network of bureau chiefs and senior journalists. Previous award winners have, for example, included the innovators at Apple, Twitter, Google and Groupon.

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TransferWise was launched in London by Estonians Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann in 2011. It enables individuals and businesses to send money between countries for a fraction of the price that banks and others charge, using an internet-based, peer-to-peer, “crowdsourced” model. Read the EstonianWorld feature on how Hinrikus and Käärmann came to the idea of setting up their business.

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Cover photo: TransferWise founders Taavet Hinrikus & Kristo Käärmann at their London office.

Expats corner: Justin Petrone from the United States

In “Expats corner” we catch up with foreigners who live or have lived in Estonia, to find out what they really think of the country. Justin Petrone is a writer and blogger, originally from New York, who has been living in Estonia on-and-off for ten years.

Justin, what brought you to Estonia?

A ferry brought me to Estonia. It was a late August afternoon, warm, the passengers sat around on the open decks and ate their lunch or played cards until the rocky archipelago of Helsinki gave way to the waves, and then we floated on toward that odd stretch of the gulf where you see no land anywhere. At last, the tree line started to form, and I could see the spires of the churches and the clumps of houses. I had a pretty good guide, too, during that whole first journey. I had met her in a program for foreign correspondents. An adventurous type. She had lived in Tallinn for a long time and showed me around. I still have that ferry ticket. I keep it in my wallet.

Had you heard about Estonia before and what was your preconception about Estonia?

When I was a boy, I was sick in bed and my grandmother came to visit me. She gave me a book – children’s stories of the Second World War, which was something that any sick child in the 1980s would have really desired. There was the Italian girl whose father was in an internment camp and had his fingernails ripped out, and the Czech boy Pavel, to whom something really awful happened but I can’t remember what.

And then there was an Estonian girl who talked about rationing and how she enjoyed having a cold, because the snot from her nose would add a savoury saltiness to her tasteless soup. I also remember reading about how she would get a piece of bread with a teaspoon of sugar on it as a dessert sometimes. That part made me hungry and that was the first time that I heard of Estonia.

Preconceptions? I guess I imagined it would be like Prague, with the squares and architecture and good cafes and pretty people. But also lots of post-commie rot and 1980s haircuts. That’s what Prague was like in 2001. You’d go into a club and they’d still be playing “Hungry Like the Wolf“. Maybe they are still playing it now. In a lot of supermarkets in Estonia you can walk in today and they will be playing A-ha’s “Take on Me“. There’s something about new wave music that sets the mood in these places.

What were your first impressions?

I’ll be honest, each time I return to Estonia from somewhere else, I feel I am entering some barbarian, pagan, Viking realm. That’s how it felt that first time and that’s how it feels now. They can build all the gadgets and glass towers they like and get all their clothes at H&M – it makes no difference, because they are the same people deep down.

I’ll give you an example. I visited relatives in Italy about a year ago, staying in these little villages that were founded by the Ancient Greeks, where the people are relaxed and sit around the piazzas telling stories, and the mere process of eating is a well-thought-out, multicourse affair with salads and pastas and poultry or fish dishes and desserts and coffee, followed by that very necessary shot of limoncello.

Then I flew back to the snowy north where I used a shovel to dig out my car at the airport parking lot. On the way home, we stopped at Viikingite küla, a themed restaurant outside of Tallinn, where the staff all wear medieval garb. There was a big roaring fire going there, the skins of animals hung on the wall, a dog was sniffing our feet. And what’s to eat? A cut of meat, some potatoes with sauce, some boiled root vegetables, and a beer, or a coffee, and that’s it. It’s just that Olde Hansa (a medieval restaurant in Tallinn – editor), Viimne Reliikvia (an old Estonian movie – editor) vibe. It lingers. My brother-in-law Aap is this big, burly guy and even though he’s mild-mannered and nice to me, I have no trouble imagining him wielding an axe.

How easy was it to integrate into Estonian society?

It depends on how you perceive the process of integration. If you learn the language and get a grip on the understated, sarcastic humour, and familiarise yourself with local customs, like hitting your partner with birch branches in the sauna, at just the right spot, with that learned flick of the wrist that produces the right velocity, striking with just the right force, then you might fit in a little bit.

Have you learned Estonian?

Jah, muidugi.

What kind of friends do you have? Local or other expats? Is it easy to make friends with Estonians?

Most of my friends are other expats and so-called väliseestlased, “foreign Estonians”. I have managed to make friends with some Estonians, but, usually, by the time they become my friends, I have long since forgotten to think of them as anything other than regular people. Another issue is that so many Estonians are actually half Swedish or half Ukrainian or half Egyptian or something, so it’s hard to see them as being “just Estonian” or representative of “Estonianness”. I will say that there are some truly creative, innovative individuals living in Estonia and I am proud to know and associate with them.

What do you do now in Estonia and do you feel that it’s a right environment for you, professionally speaking?

I am a writer, and writers can write anywhere. And even if you are writing anywhere, you are often heading somewhere else to write about something else. But I have been in Estonia long enough to get it into my bones, and it’s a comforting place to be and to write. It’s also inspirational – I have written three books about Estonia and working on two others at the moment.

The first project is another My Estonia book and the second is a novel about a fictional existentialist writer named Jaak Naplinski. It’s going to delve into the issue of what value 1960s ideals have in today’s hypermaterialistic society. I call it The Naplinski Paradox. I have some other projects brewing and should be heading to Iceland at some point to do some research for another novel. That book won’t be about Estonia, but it still will have as its setting a bleak, trying northern place, and I am sure my experiences in Estonia will help a lot.

How does Estonia inspire you in your writing?

I have been very lucky to be surrounded by creative, driven people in Estonia, starting with my wife, Epp, who has written travel memoirs, books for children, books about the environment. She’s like a force of nature and it’s awesome to see her work, although it can be intimidating. I tell myself, “Don’t worry, Justin, she’s a few years older, so she has a head start.”

And there are others: Mike Collier, the British-Latvian writer, who lives down near Võnnu, or the elusive Vello Vikerkaar. The list is long. How about Fred Jüssi, the naturalist!? To sit at his kitchen table and hear his stories, to realise that this man spends as much time as he can in the wilderness, just listening to waterfalls or photographing birds. I have a book of his and I read it over and over again, and each time I read it, I feel that I become a better writer, just by digesting his thoughtful words.

Or how about Kristiina Ehin, the poet? Reading her words is like getting lost in the Estonian forests in spring. Once when I was in San Francisco, I went into City Lights, the famous independent bookstore, and pulled out the latest collection of European fiction, and who should be included but Kristiina? I think if you are in a US literary market, especially a place like New York, you will feel very hopeless at times, and many other sensible people will no doubt ask, “Why do you even bother trying?” But when you are that close to it, like I have been in Estonia, then you really get the sense that, “Okay, I am good enough, this is something I can do.”

What has been the feedback to your book, My Estonia?

My Estonia is the first book I wrote and writing a book is not an easy task for anybody. When I finished it and it came out, I hoped it might crack the top ten on the strength of people’s interest in Estonia. Then it went on to become a number one book for many, many months. Suddenly, I was walking down the street and people would just yell out my name, or I’d be sitting on the bus next to someone reading a book, and then realise that, “Wait a second, he’s reading My Estonia.”

So, I was wholly unprepared for the phenomenon it became, this terrific reaction where I am getting letters from people in Japan or Brazil whose Estonian friends gave them My Estonia, and were really touched by our story. I cannot say if it is a good book, a great book, a terrible book, but it’s certainly been a widely read book, in some circles, and of course I have been very grateful for this response, because it has encouraged me to write more.

Estonia has been open for change for over twenty years. What do you feel has changed the most since you moved to Estonia?

I remember these creaking trams with old floors covered in melting ice and mud, a downbeat feeling of exhaustion, a sort of grey cloud that seemed to hover in perpetuity over the city of Tallinn when I lived there a decade ago. And like so many people I was drawn to the sparkle of shiny new things, glistening new hotels and apartment buildings, just because they were material signs of change. Do you remember how small Tallinna Kaubamaja (a department store in Tallinn – editor) was back then? And Stockmann (another department store  – editor) seemed like a shopper’s paradise, a little spot of civilisation in the muck. Do you remember what the Rottermani kvartal (a former industrial area, now turned into shopping and business district – editor) used to look like? Those depressing ruined industrial port buildings?

The whole city of Tallinn, and a lot of Estonia, too, has undergone an incredible facelift. Even living in Viljandi, I saw an old liquor store transferred into a hip cafe, a vacant apothecary turned into a cafe and organic foods store. And the Folk Music Centre, this great, glorious space, wasn’t even there ten years ago. While these are just physical changes, the people within those shops and buildings have also changed. They are more optimistic, more energetic. Maybe it is generational change, too. Young people today have little memory of the Soviet era, if any. Meantime the people who were adults during the Stalinist era are few and far between, so that sense of heavy, weary fatalism is gone. These days, there is more energy, more action, and I like it.

What do you dislike the most and what do you like the most about Estonia?

The level of alcohol consumption is clearly a public health problem as well as a public nuisance. “Drunks” are seen as a part of life, though, and people are quite tolerant of them, “because they don’t hurt anybody”, most of the time. But they affect us. Too many of our relatives are afflicted by alcoholism and it hurts me to see my children exposed to public displays of drunkenness. My daughter would go to play hide-and-seek near her school and then run home because there were some drunks walking down the street. It hurt me because she was so young and already knew what a drunk was. When you are a parent, you want to protect your child from the more awful side of life, you know.

So, that’s a dislike. What I like about Estonia is the reverence with which creative people are treated. In some countries, being a writer makes you an outcast, but in Estonia, if you write a book, a good book, then they hold you up on high. When an artist says something here then it often matters because just by being an author or a poet or a musician, whatever he or she thinks carries that extra weight. Put it this way: If you are running for president or prime minister, you can get all the political endorsements you like, but when Tõnis Mägi (an Estonian singer-songwriter – editor) sings “Koit” (his most famous song) on your behalf, then you know you’ve really won the election.

What should be done differently in how the country is being run in your opinion?

I am intrigued by the idea of Estonia taking the same approach to implementing progressive environmental policies as it did with its focus on information technology. These days they talk of a Silicon Valley on the Baltic, and an e-state, or e-riik, but perhaps the country could be an eco-state, or an ökoriik, as well. I just saw an article headline from someone advocating alternative energy sources. “Russia can turn off Europe’s gas, but it can’t turn off Europe’s winds.” I agree.

Would you consider staying permanently in Estonia or are you planning to return to your home country?

I think I’ll always be traveling between both because I love both of them. One leg here, one leg there.

 

New Estonian safety device monitors elderly people’s movements

Estonian startup Rahu has come up with a wristband for elderly people, which alerts the family members in case of an accident and sends the data to the company’s monitoring centre.

With people living and staying in good health longer, there is a growing trend for more elderly people staying on their own in their twilight years instead of old people’s homes. In the UK, almost half of over-60s live by themselves. This trend has also caused governments and the private sector to come up with new support services and solutions, to make the life for the elderly as safe at their own homes, and their families as worry-free, as possible.

One of these solutions is a personal alarm system that lets a person press the alarm button in emergency, calling for help via a response centre. But the downside of an alarm button is that a person might forget to carry it with them and therefore unable to reach it in case of a fall or an emergency.

Estonian startup Rahu (“peace” in Estonian) has now come up with a wristband that alerts the family in case of an accident and sends the data to the company’s monitoring centre. The monitoring centre picks out key patterns and sudden movements and enables alerting through the Rahu app or a text message when an elderly person has not got out of bed (excluding a night time period) or when they fall. It also enables smart alerting, calling the family for first check or alerting emergency services when something serious happens.

According to Tarmo Virki, the cofounder of Rahu, the idea was born upon a personal experience: “My grandmother, who was 97 at the time, fell at her home few years ago. Even though she had a personal alarm system with a panic button, it was no help because the clumsy device was on a table in the other room. She survived, but had to move to an old people’s home after the incident.”

Currently Rahu is in beta phase, testing out the product and looking into improvements.

Estonian fashion in London: winning the International Fashion Showcases with conceptual narratives (video)

For the third year in a row, the Estonian fashion industry is represented at the International London Fashion Week from 14 – 18 February, as part of the International Fashion Showcase – a collaborative project launched by the British Council and the British Fashion Council in 2012. For the second year in a row, it has won the International Fashion Showcase award.

Last year’s Estonian showcase was one of the first great successes for its fashion industry on an international stage – it won the 2013 International Fashion Showcase award, having competed against 27 countries and 110 designers. We take a quick look back and talk to the organisers and designers behind last year’s conceptual narrative, which set the path to further success this year – and hopefully in the future.

“Estonian showcase showed a solid mix of womenswear, menswear, spectacles and handbags, alongside a fashion film. They worked well on a smaller budget, and looked very coherent as a collective. The craftmanship of the work on display as a whole was consistently strong,” commented Julian Roberts from the British Council on the Estonian success.

The winning showcase was organised by the Estonian Design Centre and the Estonian Embassy in London, and supported by the Estonian Ministry of Culture. It was a lucky combination of fresh design by four designers – Kadri Kruus (Leather Accessories), Kristiina Viirpalu (Womenswear), Karl Annus (Wooden Spectacles) and Kristian Steinberg (Menswear) – and an innovative way of presenting it all through minimally designed, Nordic-infused concept, which was the brainchild of Helen Sirp, an Estonian MA student in London.

Fictionally named the “Ministry of Creative Affiars” by Sirp, it took over a renowned London arts venue, the Horse Hospital, transforming the space into a mythical immersive journey, inspired by Nordic nature and its unique aura.

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One of the most distinctive features of the Estonian showcase was a dream-like short fashion film, After Beyond, which was projected onto a curtain of fringing. The idea of using a film to set the Estonian showcase apart, was repeated this year.

Capturing the feeling, inspiration and vision behind each designer’s work via series of mythical characters and their stories, and shot in a -20°C temperature in the deep Estonian winter by fashion photographer Indrek Arula, the film also featured a unique soundscape, further adding to the almost mysterious imagery of this Nordic fashion concept.

“There’s a land far up north, where the sea hugs the shores of white sand and snow. Feel the breath of every tree and stone as the air is drawing circles around the morning mist as the fog rises…” Watch After Beyond here:

For Helen Sirp, the winning of the international showcase was icing on a cake – the showcase and film set was part of her final MA project at Central Saint Martins, one of the leading art and design schools in London. Indeed, she used knowledge from her MA subject – Narrative Environments – to bring it altogether as a fashion narrative.

“Our idea was to link the fashion designs and Estonia as a country, into one, exciting narrative, to make a casual visitor to the showcase feel that they have stepped into this magical, far-away country, with great designing skills” Helen explains.

All parties concerned agree that presenting Estonian fashion abroad is necessary and there are products which have potential.

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“Being represented in London will play its small part for being taken more seriously by the global fashion industry and it may certainly help to open more doors, internationally,” says Sirp, “It is therefore great that in Estonia’s case, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs understand the need for an international promotion and have given a very strong support for the participation of Estonia’s fashion designers at the international showcase. As it turns out, it is not always the case with other countries. Of course, in the end, the designers themselves have to use this experience actively and take a full advantage of the international contacts from the showcase.”

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“It certainly adds more confidence,” comments Kadri Kruus, the leather accessories designer. “My works were getting a lot of feedback and attention in London, giving me lots of new ideas.”

Karl Annus, whose bespoke wooden spectacles have already found a great success in his home country, counting First Lady Evelin Ilves as one of the clients, echoes Kruus’ words: “It’s good to get recognised abroad. It gives lots of energy to go on doing what I do.” However, Annus also emphasises that despite wins at international showcases, the hardest work is upon designers themselves – to carry the success through.

Kristiina Viirpalu believes that designers from a small country like Estonia are able to offer something new and unique in the fashion world. “I have practiced the technique I used for my showcase dresses in London, for six years. I was inspired by the knitting technique that is based on an over 100-year-old tradition, which is used to make ultra-thin hand-knit lacy Haapsalu scarves and shawls (local handicraft tradition in Estonian town of Haapsalu – editor). If with proper Haapsalu scarves one is supposed to be able to pull it through the woman’s ring, the same technique enables me to make wedding dresses which fit into candy boxes, to put into perspective, giving them a great advantage on an international travel, for example. So we have our own uniqueness and it is indeed a great feeling when the international fashion editors view your designs and approve it. But we have to work hard to turn the new contacts into successful reality.”

Film'After Beyond', Creative Director Helen Sirp, Photographer Jana Solom, Model Ruth Raja, Clothes Kristina Viipalu (KV Couture)

Kristel Oitmaa, the Cultural Counsellor at the Estonian Embassy in London, emphasises that the Estonian successes on winning the International Showcases are a great example of positive synergy that can be created when all parties concerned collaborate. “I believe that Estonia has its fair share of talented fashion designers. We have fewer resources than the bigger countries, but that shouldn’t affect the creativity. Our success at the international fashion showcases in London proved that everything is possible when we wisely connect everyone concerned. I would like to remind to all the creative minds in the country that we have a great cultural support-system in place in Estonia – and somewhat contrary to a myth, much better than in most other countries. One has to take an advantage of this system and find out about the ways to break into an international market.”

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Cover photo: Photographer Indrek Arula, Model Ruth Raja, Clothes Kristina Viipalu (KV Couture)

Expats Corner: James Montgomery Baxenfield from England

In “Expats corner” we catch up with foreigners who live or have lived in Estonia, to find out what they really think of the country.

James “Monty” Baxenfield was born in England but has lived most of his adult life in Eastern and Central Europe. He is a writer and an academic who resides permanently in Estonia. Over the years he has taught a variety of subjects at various educational institutions including Tallinn University, University of Tartu and Valga County Vocational Training Centre. In the last couple of years he has become involved with various Estonian social and cultural projects through working with organisations like Eesti Trükimuuseum, becoming a co-founding and director of a small not-for-profit publishing house named Villane Raamat.

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James, what brought you to Estonia?

I first came to Estonia as an exchange student. Although that sounds pretty straightforward there is quite a long story behind it as I had never intended to become a student and when I was younger I had no particular desire to move abroad. I’ve drawn liberally from these experiences in an yet-unpublished short story entitled The Accidental Academic. I hope one day this story might make it into print, so for the moment I won’t give away any spoilers.

Had you heard about Estonia before and what was your preconception about Estonia?

I make a point of not reading guide books or travel stories about different places, particularly if I know I will go there. I find it somehow takes something out of the experience of discovering a place on your own. When I found out I would be moving to Estonia it was no exception. Occasionally I read travel literature about places I have lived or stayed in for a while. After two years of living in Tallinn I was amazed by how much I didn’t know about the place.

I had heard of Estonia before I moved here. I remember seeing a handful of news stories; most clearly the sinking of the MS Estonia in 1994. Aside from that I recall a handful of references in literature and film, although none of them were particularly authentic. For example, I recall Estonia being mentioned in a long-running UK television series. One character was trying to get his son out of the country to avoid prosecution; his plan was to send him to Estonia to work for a businessman he knew. His wife wanted their son to face prosecution for what he’d done; her husband tried to bring her around to his idea by describing Estonia as a type of prison, but without walls.

What were your first impressions?

To be honest, I was a little bit disappointed. This only lasted a short while during my first few hours in Tallinn. After hitch-hiking from the Netherlands I was wandering around the city – through Nõmme, Mustamäe and Kristiine – towards Kesklinn and Vanalinn. It didn’t conform to any of the stereotypes I had about Eastern Europe at that time. I studied history, more precisely late nineteenth and early twentieth century history (later I would focus specifically on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and, as naïve as it sounds, I was really expecting to find the place as though it had never moved on from that time period. If I had been interested in the Soviet era I’m sure I would have been over the moon. Nevertheless, since then I’ve travelled around, Estonia quite a bit and seen, among other things, a diversity of architectural styles.

How easy was it to integrate into Estonian society?

'Monty' by Ahto Eller, photo by Alice Tammela
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Well, when I first came here I had no intention of staying longer than my exchange period. I lived with international students and had a handful of Estonian friends. When I decided I was going to stay in Estonia I started to make more Estonian friends. I managed to stay in Estonia quite a while longer than my exchange period through a combination of different scholarships and jobs. It was when I started working in Estonia that I really started to integrate. Early on I worked at a handful of places, including the Tallinn University where I taught English and worked for the Estonian cafe company Kehrwieder where I was briefly a barista. Over the years I’ve been involved with things like piloting international English language-based vocational training in Estonia. In 2012, the Valga County Vocational Training Centre introduced a programme in logistics for international students. It was the first such programme in Estonia and I taught a number of courses with focused on ethical warehousing and transportation technologies. In short, when I decided that I was going to live here more permanently, integrating wasn’t a problem at all.

Have you learned any Estonian?

I understand a lot more than the people around me think and I manage fine with everyday situations. My biggest problem is actively constructing things in the written and spoken form. I will learn, or rather, I am learning, but as I’m not particularly gifted when it comes to languages it will be a long and difficult process.

What kind of friends do you have? Local or other expats? Is it easy to make friends with Estonians?

As I mentioned, at first I was immersed in the international student community. These days my friends are a complete mixture of locals and expats. Certainly the larger proportion of people I hang out with on a daily basis are Estonians.

What do you do now in Estonia and do you feel that it’s a right environment for you, professionally speaking?

These days I do a few things. I write, a lot, for example – although I haven’t submitted anything to publishers yet.

I now live in Tartu where I’m involved with the day-to-day activities of the Estonian Printing Museum. It’s a place I can often be found teaching people about the history of printing or instructing people in practical activities. At other times I help with organising different events or hang around “inventing” things. The latter actually led to a surprising revelation: recently I’ve become aware that a handful of my colleagues and a couple of visitors (usually people who work in PR) refer to me on occasion as a designer! This was completely unexpected and I certainly don’t think of myself as such. However, thinking about it, people have been emailing me and asking for consultations about design-related topics for a while now.

Photo by Mana Kaasik (1)

In addition to unexpectedly becoming a “designer” I also became a publisher, although that was a little more planned. In April 2013 I became the co-founder and director of a not-for-profit publishing house called Villane Raamat MTÜ. Primarily we publish a pair of “sister” publications: ELLA (Eesti lühilugude ajakiri) and JESS (Journal of Estonian Short Stories). The pilot issues of ELLA and JESS will come out in February 2014 after which they will be published twice a year in February and September. The purpose of the journals is not only to provide new and emerging writers with a platform to display their work, but to also be a means of inter- and intra-cultural communication. Besides this, Villane Raamat is also developing a series of creative writing workshops to be held in peripheral locations around Estonia. We hope to introduce them in spring and the idea behind them is to encourage both expression through creativity and non-formal language learning among Estonian youth.

Aside from all this I also lecture part time at the University of Tartu. In February I will begin teaching a variety of courses I developed myself on topics ranging from Rudyard Kipling to Estonian literature. In essence, all the courses are about academic writing and communication, but with a nuanced approach.

I find Estonia to be rather progressive in terms of education and in that respect it is the perfect environment for me professionally. Even ELLA and JESS have a covert educational quality related to their structure and their release dates corresponding with academic semesters, but this is something that will be utilised in the future.

Estonia has been open for change for over twenty years. What do you feel has changed the most since you moved to Estonia?

Would I be cheating if I said myself? Since I came to Estonia I’ve travelled through some sort of arc in terms of personality, for the better, I think. At the same time that could purely be down to age.

In respect of change in Estonia it’s difficult to think of just one thing. Perhaps what I notice changing the most is the physical environment. Renovations and redevelopments seem to be going on constantly, whether they are small or large. Recently there have been some more prominent buildings included in this, like the central post office in Tallinn and Vana Kaubamaja (the old shopping centre) in Tartu. This “updating” can be seen in other areas too, like with these Swiss army knife-like ID cards, those excellent over-night parcel/post services, the introduction of new trains etc. These are, of course, only a handful of things that are not necessarily unique to Estonia. However, what I do think is possibly more pronounced in Estonia than in other locations is the dichotomy between tradition and the notion of progress. Both seem to be present in equal measure, although they are not in opposition with one another. This is possibly one of the reasons for Estonia’s success in a number of different fields: keeping one eye on the past and the other on the future.

What do you dislike the most/what do you like the most about Estonia?

Of course there are things that I don’t like, but for the most part they are what might be considered “middle class white guy problems”, by which I mean they are trivial and unimportant.

As for what I like the most, again, it’s difficult to think of just one thing. Perhaps for this reason I could say the pace of life. Without a doubt, I’m busier here with various projects and activities than I have been anywhere else. Yet at the same time, particularly in Tartu, I don’t feel the stress of having so much to do. Somehow, without really trying, I still manage to find time to do the things I enjoy.

Would you consider staying permanently in Estonia or are you planning to return to your home country?

There’s a certain part of me that has an unquenchable wanderlust. Nevertheless, Estonia is the place where I reside permanently and the place I feel homesick for when I go abroad. I will certainly travel more in the future, but I’ll always come back here.

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Cover photo: Mana Kaasik.

Arvo Pärt premieres his latest work at Salzburg’s Mozartwoche

The programme of the Mozartwoche (Mozart week), held in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthplace of Salzburg, Austria from 23 January to 2 February has a special focus on the Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, this year, premiering his latest work, “Swan Song”.

At a total of six concerts during the Mozartwoche, a considerable number of Pärt’s works will be presented. Among others, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Marc Minkowski, will perform the world premiere of “Swan Song” on 29 January. The Mozartwoche, a festival of long traditions, commissioned the composition. The request inspired Pärt to once again approach the historic fragment of English Cardinal John Newman’s well-known sermon, which was also the cornerstone of his choral work “Littlemore Tractus”, completed in 2000. The reconnection provided the impetus for the birth of this orchestral version, which relies less on the original text than the earlier choral piece, but thanks to the sound of the orchestra, various nuances of this short yet poetic text are highlighted to an even greater effect. Pärt himself will be present at the premiere.

Under Tõnu Kaljuste’s lead on 1 February, the Camerata Salzburg and the Latvian Radio Choir will perform Pärt’s “Salve Regina” and “Adam’s Lament” alongside the works of Mozart and Johann Strauss. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Robin Ticciati, will play “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten” in the Mozarteum’s grand hall on 30 January. In addition, Estonia is also represented at the festival by conductor Paavo Järvi, who will conduct the music of Johannes Brahms, Mozart and Strauss at a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic.

An exhibition of photographs of Arvo Pärt at the recording of “Adam’s Lament” by Kaupo Kikkas in collaboration with the Arvo Pärt Centre will also be open to visitors.

“Silhouette” and Symphony No. 4, among others, will be performed by the Bruckner Orchestra on 31 January at the Wiener Musikverein.

The festival dates back to 1956 and in addition to the works of Mozart it also focuses on te other composers of his time, including the works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Muzio Clementi. In addition, the festival this year celebrates the 300th birthday of Christoph Willibald Gluck. The festival is organised by the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation, founded in 1841.

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Source: Arvo Pärt Centre

Remembering the Holocaust – a story told by four Jewish ladies from Estonia in the film “Best Friends Forever”

To mark the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Estonian World is publishing a short film called “Best Friends Forever” by an Estonian journalist Anna Gavronski.

Remembering the Holocaust

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January, is a worldwide memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust, the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of six million Jews, two million Gypsies, 15,000 homosexual people and millions of others by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The date marks the day on 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by the Soviet troops. Estonia has been officially observing the International Holocaust Day since 27 January 2003.

Prior to the WWII, Estonia had a small but flourishing Jewish community. There are, in historical archives, records of individual Jews being in Estonia as early as the 14th century. But the permanent Jewish settlement of Estonia did not begin until the 19th century, when they were granted the right to enter the region by a statute of Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1865. Jews with higher education, or who were skilled artisans or successful merchants, were allowed to settle in Estonia and other parts of the Russian Empire.

Jewish cultural associations were established, as were, of course, Jewish congregations and houses of worship. The largest synagogues were built in Tallinn in 1883 and Tartu in 1901. Both of these were eventually destroyed in World War II during the Soviet bombing raids of March 1944. In 1913, there were 5,000 Jews living in Estonia, of whom 2,000 lived in Tartu and 1,100 in Tallinn.

At least 180 Estonian Jews, 70 of them volunteers, fought in the War of Independence (1918–1920) to help establish the Republic of Estonia.

The creation of the Republic of Estonia in 1918 marked the beginning of a new era in the life of the Jews. From the very first days of her existence as a state, Estonia showed tolerance towards all the peoples inhabiting her territories. In 1925, the Act of Cultural Autonomy for Ethnic Minorities was enacted in Estonia, giving minority groups consisting of at least 3 000 individuals the right of self-determination in cultural matters. Financial support was provided by the state. Thus, in 1926, the Jewish cultural autonomy was declared – first of its kind in the world.

For its tolerant policy towards Jews, a page was dedicated to the Republic of Estonia in the Golden Book of the Jewish National Fund in 1927.

In the 1930s, there were over 4,300 Jews living in Estonia. In 1939, there were 32 different Jewish organisations active in Estonia.

With the Soviet occupation of Estonia in 1940, Jewish cultural autonomy, in addition to the activities of Jewish organisations, was terminated. The teaching of Hebrew and Yiddish, as well as lectures on Judaism and Jewish culture, were banned. All Jewish schools were closed and 414 Estonian Jews (10 percent of the Jewish community) were deported to Siberia in the course of the mass deportations of June 1941.

During the German occupation (1941–1944), the Nazis murdered approximately 1,000 Jews who had failed to flee Estonia (most went to the Soviet Union). In addition to the aforementioned Estonian Jews that were murdered by the Nazis, many Jews were transported to Nazi concentration camps in Estonia from other parts of Europe.

Unfortunately, number of  Estonians collaborating with the Nazis participated in the crimes committed against the Jewish people. But there were also many who risked their own lives to save the Jewish people from the Nazis, one notable example being an Estonian writer and academic Uku Masing.

During the second Soviet occupation (1944–1991), many Jews, among them many intellectuals such as Yuri Lotman, migrated to Estonia to escape the anti-Semitism prevalent in many parts of the USSR. Jews, for instance, often had difficulties gaining admittance to institutions of higher learning, especially in bigger cities. If young Jews were unable to find chances for furthering their education or for obtaining suitable employment in their home towns, they did not encounter such problems in Estonia.

By 1960, 5,500 Jews were living in Estonia, about 80 percent of them in Tallinn. There was, however, no rebirth of Jewish cultural life, because of the Communist Party’s hostile policies towards the Jews. From 1940 until 1988, the Estonian Jewish community, as elsewhere in the Soviet Union, had no organisations, associations nor even clubs.

At the end of the Soviet occupation the situation changed for the better again. In March 1988, the Jewish Cultural Society was established in Tallinn. After the restoration of Estonia’s independence in 1991, the Jewish Cultural Society was reorganised and the Jewish Community was established in 1992. The Tallinn Jewish School was re-opened in 1990, being the first school for a national minority to be established in the restored Republic of Estonia.

Currently, the Jewish Community in Estonia consists of about 2,000 people. In 2007 a new synagogue was opened in Tallinn – it was the first synagogue to open in Estonia since World War II.

“Best Friends Forever” by Anna Gavronski

The film was made as Gavronski’s final project for her BA degree, while studying at the Royal Holloway, University of London – which she finished with first class honours in Media Arts. Gavronski went on to study Russian and eastern European politics at the University College London and she currently works as a television news reporter for the Estonian Public Broadcasting.

Best Friends Forever

The film depicts four over 90-year-old Jewish ladies who have been friends since elementary school despite the hardships of their life. During the Second World War, when Estonia was occupied by Nazi Germany, they escaped to the Soviet Union with their families. After the war the four ladies returned to Estonia, where they were happy to realise that all of them had survived. The film tells a painful story while engaging in humorous moments and amplifying the importance of maintaining friendships.

 

Tõnu Kaljuste wins a Grammy in the Best Choral Performance category for his work on Arvo Pärt’s “Adam’s Lament”!

Estonian conductor Tõnu Kaljuste has won a Grammy Award in the Best Choral Performance category for his work on composer Arvo Pärt’s album “Adam’s Lament” at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

“Adam’s Lament” was recorded with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the Sinfonietta Riga, the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, the Latvian Radio Choir and the Vox Clamantis ensemble.

It was recorded with Pärt’s active participation in the resonant 13th-century church of St. Nicholas in Tallinn, that surrounds the singing with a hazy echo. The album conveys a feeling of partaking of ancient religious rites in a sacred space.

In January 2013, the BBC chose “Adam’s Lament” as its recording of the month. At the beginning of January 2014, Pärt was given the title of the “world’s most performed living composer” for the third year running by the classical music event database, bachtrack.com.

“Adam’s Lament” was also nominated in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category.

The 56th annual Grammy Awards was held on 26 January 2014 in Los Angeles, USA.

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Cover photo: Tõnu Kaljuste and Arvo Pärt

Global trends and technology to look out for in 2014 – #estonianmafia’s pick

We asked Estonian startup entrepreneurs and others related to the phenomenon otherwise known as #estonianmafia, what global trends and technology are they personally looking forward to in 2014? This is what they came up with, in no particular order.

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Kristo Käärmann – CEO, Transferwise

Something to follow in payments/finance inspired by Bitcoin. More results from the artificial intelligence groups, eg Google Brain. More intelligent and interconnected things around us – smart cars, homes, shops etc.

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Rain Rannu – Founder, Fortumo

As my company Fortumo is in the payments industry, we’re most closely watching the trends in our area, ranging from cryptocurrencies to mobile wallets and alternative payments.

While Bitcoin and alternative currencies are getting a lot of media attention, at least equally big change in the payment industry is driven by the fast growth of smartphone usage. There are already more than three times as much mobile phones in the world as there are credit/debit cards. Thanks to mobile phones, an enormous amount of unbanked people get access to digital payments, cross-border money transfer and other financial services. Most of these people are in the emerging markets, where mobile phones are their first and only computer.

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Pärtel Tomberg – CEO, Isepankur

When focusing on the crowdfunding sector I’m really looking forward to legislation-related actions that will start to take place in the UK in the beginning of 2014. As the sector is currently unregulated, the UK legislation will likely be the foundation for legal framework that will be implemented across Europe in the upcoming years.

On a wider scale I’m really interested in the development of mobile services and possibilities they offer. I’m certain that during 2014 a lot of mobile-based financial services will be used even more widely – for example mobile payments/solutions will increase and change the way we pay for our daily commodities. New start-ups in the area of finance will continue to provide a strong competition against the traditional banking sector, offering specific and focused products for a better customer experience and specific solutions.

Also, I’m personally looking forward to see how indoor positioning systems (IPS) will offer new possibilities for retail shopping, combining them with online experience and financial products for customer convenience.

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Anna Piperal – Project Manager, ICT Demo Center/e-Estonia

  • Data integrity, privacy and assurance – from any data storage (cloud) point of view. This is today offered uniquely by Estonian-founded startup Guardtime – a trending startup that has grown up and is eager to become a standard.
  • Cross-border digital signing – I hate papers and time-wasting.
  • Trends – data privacy in a big data world, mobile everything, lifestyle and health monitoring, technology that makes everything easy, connected cars.

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Sten Tamkivi – Entrepreneur in Residence, Andreessen Horowitz

  • Bitcoin raises above mere asset price chatter: real, simple and useful transaction apps implemented on bitcoin protocol appear and get quickly adopted
  • Living without owning stuff spreads: on demand delivery and shared usage of bikes, cars, homes, clothes or whatnot spreads from geeks in tech-savvy metropolises to “normal people” around the world
  • People become more demanding about states: expect to use everyday tech to interact with the state, influence how they are governed and push back on additional intrusions and controls to their life

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Tõnis Saag – CEO, Sportlyzer

  • Internet privacy
  • Connected apps
  • Online collaboration
  • Tablet booming as portable professional tool
  • Customers change from one feature apps to complete solutions

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Jüri Kaljundi – Co-founder, Weekdone & Garage 48 Foundation

Technologies to follow: automated small flying vehicles: drones, quadcopters, but also everything related to flight, be it small planes or spaceflight. Looking forward to improvement in solar and electric-powered private small planes. Human-mobile connections, eg small implants readable via mobile phones, but also all other human-computer interfaces.

Solar-powered plane.

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Alari Aho – CEO, Toggl

I’m certain that clean energy gets more and more traction in 2014. Another trend to watch is smart physical objects, eg Internet of Things.

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Mari-Liis Lind – Co-founder, TechSisters

I very much look forward to an increased use of drones in accessing places and spots that have so far been out of reach both due to geographical and constructional reasons.

I am also hoping for quantified self-technologies to become smarter and more interconnected to make our daily habits and choices smarter and to provide a valuable input for medical services and thus shift the whole health-care industry.

Last but not least, in 2014 I hope to see an even more aggressive approach in making IT part of everybody’s life. Programming languages should become more common in the list of one’s language skills. Codecademy and the likes have been around for a number of years and we are seeing a number of states starting to implement IT-related education in both elementary and secondary school programmes, and different bootcamps and trainings being held to teach children and adults to code.

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Katri Ristal – Founder, “The best Estonian e-solution

I’m intrigued by how technological solutions could enhance culture and education – how technology gives an easy access to a cultural heritage and helps with overall education, via computer games, for example.

I would keep an eye on the development of pan-European e-services, for which the Estonian X-Road is an example. I also follow the developments in cyber security and e-identity. We could say that in Estonia we have created easily accessed e-services because we like our comforts and don’t like to hassle. Therefore it’s always interesting to see what new e-solutions Estonians could come up with – to make everyone’s life easier and more comfortable.

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Ragnar Sass – Co-founder, Pipedrive & Garage48 Foundation

For me this year’s biggest trends will be wearable gadgets (like Fitbit etc), how will the investment world slow down (we are close to a bubble now) and more business-to-business startups.

Fitbit wireless-enabled activity trackers.

Martin Villig – Strategic Projects at Fortumo and Garage48 Foundation

  • 3D printers hype, interesting to see would there be any real life use cases for a mass market.
  • Affordable smartphones will bring hundreds of millions of people currently using basic mobiles (Asia, Africa, Latin America) to the internet and mobile apps, services and payments.
  • Hopefully startups globally will focus more on business models and revenues rather than just growth. Valuations and acquisitions are much based on a growth hype.

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Brit Tammeorg – Sales development, Plumbr

I will definitely keep a closer look on what the Ericsson R&D department in Sweden is creating. Rumours say they have created trees that “speak” to you about their current needs, and a device that sends some signals to the human body to make it transmit certain sounds into your hearing center in your brain – kind of “ipod without wires”.

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Ivar Siimar – Founder and board member, EstBan

I believe that smart hardware is booming. History has just been made – Google has paid US$3.2 billion for Nest, a company that makes internet-connected thermostats and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. So hardware is truly back and cool again. Big Data in every aspect will also continue to be on our radar.I

Google has paid US$3.2 billion for Nest, a company that makes internet-connected thermostats and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors.

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Janar Merilo – Co-founder, GateMe

2014 will definitely show some new collaboration platforms (person-to-person services) that leave out the corporations. Google glasses and apps are definitely something to follow in 2014. I’m personally interested in what social networks are doing and which traditional technologically challenged industries and fields are conquered this year.

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Sandra Sooläte – Project Manager, Fits.me Virtual Fitting Room

It will be interesting to see how technology gets closer to brands and retailers in the fashion industry. Everybody wants to stay ahead of the game and focus on the digital customer now more than ever. Sophisticated online shopping experience will be setting new benchmarks and e-commerce will continue growing strongly. I’m also intrigued to see how e-commerce businesses will be embracing big data and making it useful to create the most personalised customer engagement.

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Kris Hiiemaa – CEO, ERPLY

Mobile payments, mobile loyaltyiBeacons.

iBeacons.Rando Pikner – CEO, Stigo Electric Scooters

I would personally like to see independent product designers getting more visibility with their smart, practical and funky products, physical or digital. At the same time I would like to see more angel investors going to that space and supporting those creative teams with hands-on business development. I hope to see more hardware accelerators and investors as well.

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Ivar Arulaid – Founder, Hosewear

As I’m tightly connected to eco-conscious startups and thus believe that this (or at least it should be considered when founding any startup) is the future of all startups, I’m definitely looking forward to see what kind of crazy ideas there are.

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Andrus Purde – Serial marketer, Pipedrive, Recoworks

I’m personally looking forward to better-quantified self trackers and services. Many need it to prevent and cure real issues and almost everyone could use some assistance in optimising energy and well-being levels by being smarter around nutrition, sleep and movement.

Quantified self tracker.

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Mike Reiner – CEO, Startup Wise Guys

There are so many interesting trends in different fields that it’s hard to pick. I personally like the developments in business analytics and interconnected smart devices a lot. When it comes to analytics, for instance, I’m curious what is going to happen with Watson, the super computer of IBM. They are investing a lot of money and I hope that other startups and developers will be able to build on top of this platform. Also Bitcoin, or rather what it stands for, is extremely interesting. I would like to see more startups that use cutting-edge technology to make this world a better place to live in. There is a lot of potential – especially in sectors such as energy, health and education.

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Cover photo: Google glasses

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